Posts in Reading Recommendations

In Defense of Wolves

August 6th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As part of the Practical Parenting column, I am re-running Susan’s Musings that had to do with parents and children. The “Little Yosef” of this column is now a fifteen-year-old young man who spent the last two weeks hauling water-sodden loads out of our flooded basement. 

Little Yosef, age 6, is busy writing stories about fending off wolves and building log cabins. The Little House on the Prairie series and other books depicting the same period have stimulated his imagination.

His mother tells me that he is particularly taken with the idea that children not that much older than he is now might be left alone to do a daunting job and expected to cope with all contingencies that arose.

While I don’t believe his parents are even close to handing him a rifle and instructing him to protect the homestead, Yosef’s fascination with the concept of responsibility is a positive one. As the eldest of four children, he already has been initiated into the club of those who know that what they do matters to the family. If anything his mother, as an eldest sibling herself, is sensitive to not putting too great a load on his young shoulders.

Nevertheless, hearing this made me realize that it is not always easy to give boys the soul satisfaction they need for healthy growth, especially as they approach and live through their teen years. While it is not healthy for either boys or girls to feel that they are takers rather than givers, in other words, to be solely occupied with their own happiness, concerns, education, and friendships, I do think it is harder for boys to move beyond that. At the risk of provoking a firestorm, a girl who takes care of younger siblings and helps with meals and laundry while recognizing that these are not made up chores for her but actually are needed for the house to function, can feel rightly valued. A boy who takes care of the baby and chores is indeed making a needed contribution, but I don’t think it fills a psychic need. Boys need to face physical challenge and slay dragons.  Just watch them seek danger and risk.

I’m not eager to see thirteen-year-olds return to the coal mine or fifteen-year-olds hauling cement rather than going to school. But with the implementation of child labor laws and the fear of litigation hovering over employees, in addition to urbanization, we have removed from teenage boys many opportunities to test themselves and their courage, strength, tenacity and resilience. Playing football may be hard work, but it cannot compare with knowing that the family is eating because of crops you harvested or a salary you earned doing construction work. Today’s rare prodigy is making big money creating a new iPhone app, but somehow I don’t see masses of boys doing so, and I doubt if the industry is being spurred by a realization of the family’s economic need.

As our society and schools become increasingly geared towards feminine predilections, encouraging Yosef and his fellow males to grow into healthy men becomes a more difficult and less easily resolved task. How do boys discover manliness with nary a wolf in sight, and too frequently not even a father or role model, to be seen?

Since I wrote this, I think the culture has moved even more to portraying boys as either bullies or feminized. If I was raising boys today, I would actively seek out older boys’ adventure stories. In general, I’m a fan of older books (though there are some excellent new ones as well).

If you have boys, I suggest taking a look at Farmer Boy in the Little House on the Prairie series. Check out Little Britches by Ralph Moody and if it goes over well, it is the first in a series of books. Girls will enjoy these books too, but it seems to me that there are more books available where girls are the protagonists and it is worth making the effort to find books that highlight boys. The recommended reading age for these books is 7 or 8-12, but you need to know your child. Especially when you are reading aloud to a child, which I heartily recommend, most younger children will enjoy books above their independent reading level.

Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

April 7th, 2010 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations, Susan's Musings No Comment yet

 

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks the “authentic” English, expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

 

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

 

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

 

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

 

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the TV and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. After all, how often do holidays come around?

 

 

 

 

 

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